Friday, October 29, 2010
TO HEINIE, WITH LOVE - December 1964 (12 O’Clock High)
A month following completion of my second THE FUGITIVE I reported to 20th Century Fox for 12 O’CLOCK HIGH, a co-production of QM Productions and 20th Century Fox. I don’t know the exact details for this co-production arrangement, but it’s not too difficult to surmise what it was. ABC wanted a series based on the 1949 film starring Gregory Peck. Quinn Martin was the fair-haired boy at the network because of the huge success the previous season of his series, THE FUGITIVE. (The network may also have been committed to buying a show from him but may not have liked what he submitted.) So the network bought 12 O’CLOCK HIGH from 20th Century Fox and put Quinn in charge of delivering it to them.
This was my first association with 20th Century Fox, but I did not report to their big studio on West Pico Boulevard. 12 O’CLOCK HIGH was being filmed at the old Fox studio located on Western Avenue at Sunset Boulevard. And when I say old, I mean OLD! Built in 1916 by William Fox, one of the pioneer creators of the film industry, the studio fairly reeked of ghosts of the past. This was where Tom Mix became one of the early film western stars, where American born Theda Bara became one of the first International screen vamps, and where sweet little Janet Gaynor, co-starring with Charles Farrell, became a major star and won the first Academy Award for her performances in SEVENTH HEAVEN, SUNRISE and STREET ANGEL.
I liked the feel of the studio, much as I had felt about Desilu (the old RKO Radio Pictures studio) where I had filmed BREAKING POINT. It may have been dilapidated, it may have been small, but it was intimate and had character. It felt friendly. The studio straddled Western Avenue; the producers’ offices and soundstages were east of Western; a small exterior street and a soundstage for process filming were west of the street. And there were friendly faces from my past. Producer Frank Glicksman was an old friend from our days at CBS. I had known casting director John Conwell forever -- from his days as an actor on PLAYHOUSE 90 to his having cast my production of PRINTER’S DEVIL on TWILIGHT ZONE and my earlier episodes that season of THE FUGITIVE. Associate Producer Charles Larson was a new face for me, but we would be working together in fifteen productions during the next two years. Charles was the story editor for the series and this first assignment, TO HEINIE, WITH LOVE (which I liked), was co-written by him.
Casting was easy. Twenty-four year old Keir Dullea had starred in two films I admired, THE HOODLUM PRIEST and DAVID AND LISA (2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY was still three years in his future). I didn’t know Jill Haworth’s work, but I trusted John Conwell (the role of Sally Bowles in CABARET on Broadway was just a year in her future). And I also trusted him on his suggestions for the Piccadilly Lily crew; some of them were returning having appeared in earlier episodes of the series.
The following message appeared at the beginning of the 12 O’CLOCK HIGH feature film:
The air battle scenes in this
Motion Picture were photographed
in actual combat by members of
the United States Air Force and
the German Luftwaffe.
Those same photographed battle scenes provided the stock film for our air battle scenes. At this point I had limited experience with rear projection: a few scenes involving automobiles, photographed on large empty soundstages. I was about to get an advanced crash course in the subject. A little more than a third of this episode was to be filmed with rear projection. QM productions were usually scheduled to shoot in seven days. Due to the amount of stock footage that would be used, TO HEINIE was scheduled for six days, the final two days to be filmed on the process stage.
The stage for this activity was an unusually small one. The rear projector was set up in one corner of the stage with the rear projection screen lined up in front of it; the section of the plane to be photographed was in front of that. The camera was in the opposite corner of the stage. As I remember it, there was just room for the operator to slip into his position behind the camera. It was very cramped quarters. Complicating the situation was the number of plane sections where scenes occurred. Each of them was a set to be moved in and then out. And each set had both process and straight shots.
Then figure in the number of crew in that small space: camera, lighting, grips, props, wardrobe, makeup, hair, script supervisor, and don’t forget me. Add the big lamps to light the set. As I said, it was very cramped quarters.
It’s an accepted fact that scenes in film are not shot in sequence. There are factors (mostly related to budget) that determine the way a schedule is laid out. In the case of this film, the final two days of the plane in flight and the battle scenes were scheduled for the last two days. Those scenes would require the presence of all of the Piccadilly Lily crew. Therefore it was financially beneficial to start them as late in the schedule as possible. This was accomplished by starting in Savage’s office the first day; of the crew only Magill was involved. The second day was a location on the Fox ranch with only Keir and Jill. So the members of the crew were booked to start the third day on the location at Chino, and they worked every day from then till the completion of the film; their period of employment had been limited to four days.
Chino, about a half hour ride east of the studio, was the site of our airfield location. The previous fight scene between Muller and Magill was filmed in process on the fifth day; the following scene was filmed in Chino on our third day -- two days before the scene that preceded it.
And the following scene, which followed the previous two sequences, was filmed on the first day.
I think the genesis for this episode came from the 12 O’CLOCK HIGH feature film, in which there was a scene where a lieutenant admits to the general that his father was a Nazi Bund member. But the subject was not pursued. Also in the feature is a scene when a Colonal Gately reports to General Savage for a reprimand, stands at ease, and Savage orders him to stand at attention, just as our General Savage orders Magill to stand at attention.
William Spencer, the regular director of photography for 12 O’CLOCK HIGH, was away filming a pilot for QM Productions. His replacement was Gene Polito, son of Sol Polito, one of the great cameraman of the thirties and forties, known primarily for his work at Warner Bros on such films as THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES, SERGEANT YORK, THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE, NOW, VOYAGER and on and on. Gene asked me as we began if it would be all right if he filmed everything with a 30mm lens. I said okay. At this stage in my career I was not yet knowledgeable on the subject of lenses. (That knowledge was to be acquired within the next year.) I know now that the wide 30mm lens is not the one to use for large closeups. The slightly bloated faces in the previous scene’s closeups prove that. But I also have to acknowledge there is a documentary feel because of the 30mm lens. Maybe that was what Gene had in mind.
Guilt by association! That scene could be played today with a picture of the father as a Muslim.
The Fox ranch in the far valley was the location for our second day of filming. It was very similar to the MGM lot #3, only not as conveniently located. The script called for two shots of a quail running away; the shots were designated to come out of stock. Somehow it was ascertained that they did not have stock shots of a quail running away, I would have to film them. When I questioned just how we did that, I was assured there would be no problem; we would have a quail wrangler.
Did you see the two shots of the quail running away? Well I set up the shot, the quail wrangler placed the bird on her mark, but when I called action the bird ran off in the wrong direction. Take 2. Take 3. Take 4. It was finally understood that the bird did not understand me. I obviously wasn't speaking Quail language. A piece of string tied to one of her legs corrected that and convinced her to follow my directions. And I never placed my faith in a quail wrangler again!
At Chino we did not film planes landing or taking off. That came from stock. We did film planes taxiing.
Filming the men reaching up and pulling themselves into the plane could sometimes become very humorous. The series’ regulars had no problem, but some of the guest crew had difficulty, many times necessitating cutting away to another shot and letting the audience’s imagination fill in the difficult hoist.
Again I point out, the following scene was filmed three days before the scene that preceded it.
I’m not sure why, but this episode illustrates more clearly the difficulties actors face because of film being shot out of sequence. The following scene was filmed on the second day, ahead of the two previous sequences that preceded it.
If Daniels, the new bombardier, took his helmet off, you might recognize Jimmy Hayes. The previous season he had played the blind attendant who wanted to help blind Brad Dillman learn to shave. You can see that in the archives to the right in the SHADOWS OF A STARLESS NIGHT episode of BREAKING POINT.
Now on to the mission.
Jimmie (and I don’t remember his last name) had come to Hollywood from Tennessee as a member of Elvis Presley’s entourage. Somewhere along the line he had broken away from the group to work in Hollywood as an extra. By the time of 12 O’CLOCK HIGH he had become a series’ stand-in. As such he was also used as a background charaacter and when possible (to provide extra income for him) for special business. In the following sequence (which was very scary to shoot) he is the airman in an asbestos suit who is set on fire.
All of Quinn’s shows had the same format: a prolog preceded the opening titles; each act was labelled: ACT I, ACT II, ACT III, ACT IV; and a final wrap-up titled EPILOG.
When I finished filming TO HEINIE..., my agent called and said they wanted to book me for three more 12 O’CLOCK HIGH's, which would finish out my season. I had a problem with this. Arthur Fellows, the executive in charge of post-production, had a standing rule; directors were not allowed in the editing rooms. I turned the offer down. I told my agent I preferred working for production companies where I would be allowed to go into the editing rooms. My agent called the next day to say that he had delivered that message to Quinn, and Quinn's answer was, "Ralph can go into the editing rooms here". And so for the next decade Arthur Fellows constantly teased me with the fact that I was the only director he allowed into his editing rooms. I liked Arthur; I had great respect for him. He really knew film. (Also on A FAREWELL TO ARMS he had decked David O. Selznick.)
One more sidebar bit of information: One day driving out to our Chino location Jack Aldworth, the assistant director on this episode, told me of an incident many years before when he was on a distant mountain location for a feature film starring Glenn Ford. When Glenn arrived at the location he immediately began checking to be sure that all of the rules for location filming were being followed. And he was not shy about raising a fuss if he found any instances where there were infractions of the required rules. Jack, as the assistant director, was the recipient of these complaints, one of which was that the required medical emergency supplies were not present. He demanded that they must be secured or he would not film. Jack said he was pissed; the securing of these supplies fell on his already over-burdened shoulders, but he reluctantly and begrudgingly complied with Ford’s demands. Weeks later there was an emergency; a member of the crew had a heart attack, and the medical equipment that had been so reluctantly secured probably saved his life. That crew member whose hand was held by Glann Ford as he was carried on a stretcher and placed in an ambulance? Jack Aldworth.